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Angry Vidiots vs. the Super Bowl

The torment is over.

No, not the torment over the St. Louis Rams winning Super Bowl XXXIV when Tennessee's Kevin Dyson was tackled at the 1 yard line as time expired. That torment will remain for some time.

But the torment of this year's cavalcade of showcase advertisements -- all aired during the Super Bowl -- has ended for another year.

This year, we tried something different when it came to our comprehensive TeeVee super bowl coverage. Four Vidiots and a panel of civilians converged at one Vidiot's house for an ad-watching focus group, sometimes known as a Super Bowl party.

After each commercial, our panel gave a rating from zero to 5 based on the overall quality of the commercial. In the end, we found a handful of clear winners -- and quite a few big losers. In the middle were more than 50 duds, commercials not good enough or (more likely) bad enough to make them worth mentioning.

One final rule before we begin the cavalcade of commercials: we rated only those commercials which premiered this weekend; if we had seen it before, it was out.

Now, on with the show.

Pets.com Grand Champion (tie): Pets.com, "Don't Go." Not to say that we're big fans of singing sock puppets, but this commercial (in which the Pets.com spokespuppet -- a sock dog with a watch for a collar -- sings the Chicago oldie "If You Leave Me Now" to sad pets abandoned by their owners) won our panel over. It was funny, featured charmingly awful singing of a charmingly awful song, and even offered a crying turtle. As a result, it was pretty much the only dot-com ad we enjoyed in spite of ourselves.

Cars Grand Champion (tie): Oldsmobile, "Cars." The first 45 seconds of this commercial had us all groaning intensely -- a bunch of vacant-eyed models sing along to the Gary Numan oldie "Cars." (Yes, apparently we're suckers for songs we vaguely remember from our youth.) But all of a sudden, we began to realize just how badly these models were beginning to sing. And before we knew it, they were scattering in all directions to avoid the arrival of an Oldsmobile. Will most people ever drive an Oldsmobile? Probably not. But we all have a little room in our hearts for hating the Gap.

Cat Herders 3rd Place: EDS, "Cat Herders." All the newspapers pointed this out as one of the best ads of the Super Bowl, and while we like to be contrarians -- Mountain Dew's much-ballyhooed "Cheetah" ad represents all the excess and stupidity that drains the fun out of watching Super Bowl ads -- we have to admit that this item, featuring hardscrabble cowpokes herding domestic cats across a river and over rolling hillsides while battling scratches and allergies, was funny. It helped that most of those in our panel have cats of their own.

Honorable Mention: A nod to Charles Schwab's ad featuring retired sports figures, including the recently-retired Mike Ditka; eTrade's ad featuring a high-school basketball whiz who, not so deep down, aspires to be a dancer; Visa's mercifully irony-deficient ode to synchronized swimming; and eTrade's brilliant spot featuring a conducting chimpanzee. We're suckers for the primates.

And now, the worst!

Freddie Mercury Trophy (5th worst): Mountain Dew, "Bohemian Rhapsody." A godawful homage to Queen's video for "Bohemian Rhapsody," we couldn't feel nostalgic about this song being revived. Mountain Dew's ads were grating, oppressively hip with an X-Games aesthetic that is so 1998. Their posturing used to be funny, but now they're just pathetic, a bit like a low-budget success that's let their big new budget go to their head. Nothing was funny about the "Bohemian Rhapsody" spot; it was expensive, ugly, confusing, and unfunny. If Freddie Mercury were alive today, he'd have dropped dead on the spot upon seeing this travesty.

Black Lung Cup (4th worst): Philip Morris anti-smoking spot. Children in a Nike-like setting discuss reasons why they'll do something. It turns out, they're talking about not smoking. Thanks, Philip Morris! All is forgiven.

The Big Whinny (3rd worst): Budweiser, "Baby Horse." Budweiser's commercials, usually winners or at least in the running, were pathetic this year. Our favorite featured a brilliantly motivated dog actor who jumps into a van while chasing a Bud truck. But the beer company's most ballyhooed spot featured the birth of a Clydesdale. It was sappy, but not in a tear-jerking way. It was crassly commercial and without any genuine feeling, right down to the horse owner's final congratulations to the stallion who apparently fathered the new foal.

The Worst Truth in Advertising Award (2nd worst): Lifeminders.com, "Worst." This awful ad, featuring the poor playing of "chopsticks" over a series of typewriter-font slides, claimed to be the worst commercial of the Super Bowl. Not only did that not turn out to be true -- we've got one more to go before we get to the bottom! -- but this one wasn't even inspired at being bad. Just saying you suck doesn't make it so. You have to mean it.

The Golden Crapulence Award: Nuveen Investments, "The Future." It took a lot for our panel to agree unanimously about the worst ad at this year's Super Bowl. But this year, Nuveen Investments managed it. At a futuristic banquet, the hosts announce the eradication of many diseases -- including, we're told, spinal cord injuries. At this point, all we can cry at the screen is that the guest of honor not be Christopher Reeve, a paralyzed man used for crass commercial purposes. But indeed, out steps (via awkward computer animation) Christopher Reeve himself. What does this have to do with Nuveen Investments? Who cares? For its painfully obvious and yet remarkably inappropriate choice -- not to mention the huge outlay of cash for the Super Bowl spot -- Nuveen is our undisputed champion.

As for Mountain Dew, Budweiser, and the dot-com crowd -- well, there's always next year.

Additional contributions to this article by: Jason Snell.


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